Page images

innocence, is fallen into the suspicious condition of guilt, when, upon hearing a knocking at the gate, he cries out;


How is it with me, when every noise appals me ?

The Poet has contrived to throw a tincture of remorse even into Macbeth's resolution to murder Banquo.-He does not proceed in it like a man who, impenitent in crimes, and wanton in success, gaily goes forward in his violent career; but seems impelled onward, and stimulated to this additional villainy, by an apprehension, that, if Banquo's posterity should inherit the crown, he has sacrificed his virtue, and defiled his own soul in vain.


If 'tis so,

For Banquo's issue have I 'fil'd my mind;

For them, the gracious Duncan have I murder'd;

Put rancours in the vessel of my peace

Only for them; and mine eternal jewel

Giv'n to the common enemy of man,

To make them kings, the seed of Banquo kings.


His desire to keep Lady Macbeth innocent of this intended murder, and yet, from the fulness of a throbbing heart, uttering what may render suspected the very thing he wishes to conceal, shews how deeply the Author enters into human nature in general, and in every circumstance preserves the consistency of the character he exhibits.

How strongly is expressed the great truth, that to a man of courage, the most terrible object is the person he has injured, in the following address to Banquo's ghost!


What man dare, I dare.

Approach thou like the rugged Russian bear,
The arm'd rhinoceros, or Hyrcan tyger :
Take any shape but that, and my firm nerves
Shall never tremble: or, be alive again,

And dare me to the desart with thy sword;

If trembling 1 evade it, then protest me

The baby of a girl. Hence, terrible shadow !
Unreal mock'ry, hence!

It is impossible not to sympathize with the



terrors Macbeth expresses in his disordered speech :


It will have blood.-They say, blood will have blood. Stones have been known to move, and trees to speak; Augurs, that understand relations, have,

By magpies, and by choughs, and rooks, brought forth The secret'st man of blood.

The perturbation, with which Macbeth again resorts to the Witches, and the tone of resentment and abhorrence with which he addresses them, rather expresses his sense of the crimes, to which their promises excited him, than any satisfaction in the regal condition, those crimes had procured.


How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags!
What is't you do?

The unhappy and disconsolate state of the most triumphant villainy, from a consciousness of men's internal detestation of that flagitious greatness, to which they are forced to pay external homage, is finely expressed in the following words:



I have liv'd long enough: my way of life
Is fall'n into the sear, the yellow leaf:
And that which should accompany old age,
As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,
I must not look to have; but in their stead,
Curses not loud but deep, mouth-honour, breath,
Which the poor heart would fain deny, and dare not.

Toward the conclusion of the piece, his mind seems to sink under its load of guilt; despair and melancholy hang on his words. By his address to the physician, we perceive he has griefs that press harder on him than his enemies:


Canst thou not minister to a mind diseas'd;

Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow;

Raze out the written troubles of the brain;

And, with some sweet oblivious antidote,

Cleanse the stuff'd bosom of that perilous stuff
Which weighs upon the heart?

The alacrity with which he attacks young Siward, and his reluctance to engage with Macduff, of whose blood he says he has al


ready had too much, complete a character uniformly preserved from the opening of the fable, to its conclusion.-We find him ever answering to the first idea we were made to conceive of him.

The man of honour pierces through the traitor and the assassin. His mind loses its

tranquillity by guilt, but never its forti

tude in danger.

His crimes presented to

him, even in the unreal mockery of a vision, or the harmless form of sleeping innocence, terrify him more than all his foes in arms. -It has been very justly observed by a late commentator, that this piece does not abound with those nice discriminations of character, usual in the plays of our Author, the events being too great to admit the influence of particular dispositions. It appears to me, that the character of Macbeth is also represented less particular and special, that his example may be of more universal utility. He has therefore placed him on that line, on which the major part of mankind may be ranked, just between the extremes of good and bad; a station assailable by various tempta


« PreviousContinue »